‘I Am Not A Teacher, But An Awakener.’ – Robert Frost

Not everyone can remember the exact moment when they had their first life changing moment

I can

I was in grade two

We were gathered around on the floor waiting to meet our new teacher

Everyone was excited and nervous

A little background:

I’d gone to the same school since Junior Kindergarten

It was a Catholic elementary school

With predominantly Italian-Canadian kids like me

The teachers were mostly Italian descent as well

They were all what you’d picture elementary school teachers to look and dress like

I liked my teachers enough

I liked school enough

And then Art walked in

Right into my grade two classroom

I knew things wouldn’t be the same

My jaw dropped, along with pretty much all the other kids

It was a woman with platinum blonde crimped hair and she wore a sorta green taffeta Victorian style dress

She had thick black eyeliner and red lip stick and pointy boots

I had never seen something so beautiful before

While the other kids were murmuring to each other that she they thought she looked kinda weird

I just sat there

And thought ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up’

I was lucky enough to have Ms. T as my teacher, 3 times over the years

She was so artistic and creative

And I loved the creative writing prompts she would give us

Where I could write whatever I wanted

We would read in front of the class

Which undoubtedly gave me the confidence that I still have today, to enjoy public speaking (somewhat of a rarity for anxiety-sufferers)

I can’t even count how many times she told me how much she believed in me, even standing up for me, when it was appropriate

Me

A little girl, then a 10 year old brat and lastly a weird 12 year old unsure of her place in the world

She would often see me standing waiting for the bus after school

And would drive me home

I absolutely loved those moments

When I felt I had a special connection with her that the other kids didn’t have

I looked forward to seeing her yellow Jeep driving down the street towards me

I’d sit in the front passenger seat and chat

I left the Jeep positively glowing

Even now when I look back on my memories, it comes with a sort of magic

Which is fitting since I was sure she was a witch with her clothes, shoes and makeup

But not the scary kinda witch that kids are often afraid of

No, Ms. T was the good witch

The one that carried a little bit of magic in her Victorian lace pockets

The magic that made me love learning and writing

Sprinkling just enough of it for me to feel so at ease and happy in her presence

When I got into high school

I was already expressing myself differently

Dying my hair

And wearing all black

Later painting my eyes black

And so on

Life had shifted so dramatically

Where I once loved to learn with an amazing teacher

Now I was often being kicked out of class for not wearing the uniform to the various teachers liking

I hated English classes almost more than any

I had two different teachers

That would pick on me mercilessly in front of the entire class

About my make up

About my hair

About my jewellery

About me

I wish I could tell you it didn’t bother me

But it had a profound effect on me

I started to hate school and resent these teachers

Most authority figures too

In the dreaded math class where I struggled the most

I was kicked out so often that I got frustrated and annoyed

I remember saying to the teacher and later to the Vice Principal

That it just didn’t make any sense

To kick me out of a class that I’d needed the most help with

I grew disenfranchised and apathetic to learning

I skipped school a lot

What was the point, I’d probably get kicked out for a uniform infraction or another

I’d see other girls often not even in uniform, and they’d make it through, completely unscathed

Over the years I’d still run into Ms. T and she always made me feel just as special as that kid who got rides in her Jeep

I couldn’t understand how she could be in the same profession as these other teachers who seemed to care more about deterring young women from figuring out who they were than of any real learning

In grade eleven, there was a new Principal and she hated me on sight

There was a meeting held

I think my father came

I can’t remember much of it

I hated school

I didn’t want to leave my friends

But I couldn’t keep doing this

The meeting had a lot to do with the school urging me to change my ‘look’

Or face the consequences

Not change my behaviour

Just the way I looked

I’d been told by my family numerous times

That it would be so much easier if I could just change

I knew they were trying to help what was becoming a horrible situation

I just couldn’t do it

I remember once my best friend and I swapped outfits as a joke

She wore my ripped shorts and flannel with a band tee and I wore her neatly pressed button up blouse with dressy shorts

I felt like my skin was crawling

I don’t know how else to explain it

I felt fake

I felt like everyone could see me without my clothes on

To have changed my outward appearance was simply not an option for me

I left the school

I went to an alternative public school

Which was the polar opposite of what I was used to

In every imaginable way

I still stood out, it just wasn’t a big deal

I wish I could say I was able to get back what I’d lost

That love of learning

But by this point I just wanted to graduate and never look back

I missed my friends most of whom I’d known since elementary school

I missed being around kids of the same culture I’d grown up in

It was kinda a culture shock

I remember urging my parents not to attend graduation

Fearful of how much they would stand out in a sea of waspy parents

Ironic right?

Sure I was lucky enough to have awesome teachers once again

Even one who let me focus my entire Independent Studies in Anarchy as a political ‘structure’

I still smile at that

Unfortunately, I never enjoyed school the way I had previously

I look back at my life of the years

Of course I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d somehow chosen on a different path

But it just never felt like a choice

Truthfully, I cannot imagine it any other way

I don’t think I really even want to

And I’m certain that Ms. T walked into my classroom and changed the trajectory of my life in the best way possible

I hope she knows for that, I will always be grateful

Through the difficulties, through it all

I can unequivocally say that the one thing I’m completely comfortable in, is my own skin and who I am as an individual

Which so many people, never seem to achieve

More-so, I’m confident in who I am

I owe it to Ms. T

After all, she steered me clear of becoming anything but boring

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A typical sick day in the life of a youth worker

I woke up after being text messaged and called by one of the youths in the class.

I’m half asleep and he hears it in my voice and asks if he woke me up. When I answer in the affirmative he asks if I’ll be at school.

When I say no he gets sucky that I won’t be at school today.

I tell him I’m glad he’s going to school though and I futilely try to explain that I’m sick but he’s already telling me the reason for his phone call.

There’s bad shit brewing between one of the boys and the only girl in the class.

My sleepy brain can only comprehend the words picture, Snapchat, cops, arrest. I sit up now but the kid’s taxi has come to take him to school.

Of course I’m wide awake now, so I attempt some damage control with a member of my team in the classroom.

It’s like a potential war zone in there and we gotta be prepared for catastrophes at any minute.

Okay he’s been forewarned, I feel better about my absence.

I can’t get back to sleep now because all I keep thinking is what the hell was that kid talking about this morning?

Wait did he say cops?

Shit I think he may have mentioned something about a charge.

I head downstairs I need coffee stat.

I finally hear back from the kid who fills me in on the entire story and all the gory details.

I won’t share, you’d thank me if you knew what I was leaving out.

The kid is talking to me from the class phone but he’s in the hallway. Even from home I tell him to lower his voice so he doesn’t get into trouble.

As he fills me in detail by excruciating detail I’m already planning how the problem solving will go.

I need to get in touch with my team. We gotta be preemptive in this. Gotta get ahead of the chaos.

Before I let him go, I make sure he’s got food at home.

He does but he gets distracted because the bell between classes has rung and he starts talking about all the cute shorties in the halls.

I remind him that I’m his youth worker not his homeboy.

He laughs and says he knows but I’m his closest (albeit) only youth worker.

He keeps talking about the shorty at the locker so I ask if he’s still trying to win back his girl, he doesn’t see the connection.

I tell him I’ll see him tomorrow.

I call my team one by one to fill them in.

Unlike you all, they aren’t exempt from hearing all the details.

I don’t even stumble over my words when I give them the inside scoop. They like me aren’t surprised by where this story has gone.

We predicted this outcome but no one really listened.

We tell each other that tomorrow we will detail with it all.

We work out a bit of game plan.

We hang up telling each other that tomorrow we will be there.

That we will do what we have to do to get through the morning classes and our afternoon meeting.

I hang up and I start thinking about my job and this little team of mine. And how we are all so isolated from our respective coworkers.

No one else really gets it like my team does.

It’s like some kind of platoon back from the war, you tell people the shit you’ve seen but they just don’t get it.

But your little team, well there’s a mutual understanding that if we don’t laugh at some of the shit that goes on, we’d go mad.

So anyway this triad of mine, they’ve got my back and me, theirs. And tomorrow we’ll suit up to face another day in a contained classroom with these kids that sometimes love us, sometimes hate us and sometimes just want us to shut the fuck up so they can go home.

And those sentiments, I am quite sure we have each muttered to ourselves on any given day.

Another day, another💲

I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting down to dinner when a youth told me he had nothing to eat at home

He said not to worry he could wait until tomorrow

Brampton is so out of the way for you, he said

I brought him fast food

A bandaid to temporarily cover a much bigger wound

He is 16 and living without the care of parents to monitor that he eats and goes to school

I find it miraculous that he even attends school most days

Even if it’s just for some cereal and a chat

If not for his circumstances,

This kid could have been on a sports team, getting good grades at school and eating a home cooked meal every night

Instead his father is dead and his mother has disappeared with the guy that tried to beat this kid up

Yeah sure he gets some money from the system

The system that is built to see him fail

After his rent is paid, he has two hundred and some odd dollars left for the month

And he’s 16 remember

So he doesn’t know how to budget

Hell, I don’t either

Sometimes he spends his money on stupid shit

Like we all do

This month is cheque hasn’t come in yet and he’s too proud to ask for help

Even from me

So I ask him if he’s eaten the night before and his answer is hesitant

But it’s always the same

There is no food in the house

So he eats at school

And then often he gets sick because his stomach isn’t used to the food

His doctor said his stomach has shrunk from malnutrition

This is where we live

This is Canada

This is where we are so proud to call home

Cheering on Olympian’s

While kids go to school with nothing in their stomach

And the whole system knows about it

In fact it always did

From children’s aid societies to educational institutions to income supports

This kid has been in the system since birth

He never had a chance did he?

Does it make you uncomfortable?

To think that tonight while you sit down with your kids…your partner, there’s a kid somewhere out there

Not too far from you in fact

Who is willing to go another night without food

So that his youth worker doesn’t have to drive out of her way

It should

Make you uncomfortable

It should make us all uncomfortable

There is an entire population of kids like this

Who are falling through the cracks of a society that only pretends to care for them anyway

This is unacceptable

This is not a society that I want to be a part of

We must do better

I want to be a part of a society that looks after its weakest and most vulnerable members

I do not want to throw them to the wolves and let them fend for themselves

Because the circumstances of their lives were unlucky

I want to be proud of a country that looks after youth who’s parents stopped caring for them a long time ago

I thought I was already part of a country like that

I was wrong

Oh Canada

It’s time you do better

The fountain of youth is empty

I wanna take a break from our regularly scheduled program of all things fuck MS 

I don’t have any poetic words or sassy comments for this one 

When I’m not writing crabby and sometimes hopeful blogs, I’m a youth worker in a contained classroom within a high school setting

I work with up to 8 youth between the ages of 14-18

While we are open to working with all genders we do tend to have a largely male population 

The youths that come to us have sometimes been in similar programming before, or have no idea what we offer

They come from catholic or public schools, from treatment or detention

They come from single parent families, two parent families, foster care or completely broken homes

They come from diverse backgrounds and religious affiliations 

Some of their families were born here while others immigrated to Canada

The youth come to us with the official purpose of being reintegrated into mainstream schooling one day

Unofficially

Well that’s a different story

They come to us because of negative situations they’ve found themselves in

At school or in the community

They come to us from abusive homes or homes where they just don’t matter

It’s hard to say which is worse 

So 

They come to us looking for a place in the world to belong

Even if it’s just Monday to Friday 

We try to offer them a soft landing spot

Where they can stop acting or reacting 

They can just be

And lately

More often than not

They come to us hungry

I don’t mean hangry type of hunger

I mean stomach pains and shrinking stomach type of hunger

Where they go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry

And teenage boys

Well they have a very hard time asking for help

They are reluctant to admit that there’s no food at home

Fuck it no young person should ever have to face having no food

No young person should have to deal with the shame that goes with having no food

On top of all the other shit that goes on in the life of an adolescent

Lack of food

Should not be one of the difficulties they face

Yet they do

Everyday

And we become detectives

Observing their sallow and dry skin

The way their jeans hang off of them when they never did before

If they brought lunch

Asking questions about breakfast or dinners

And so

We take them grocery shopping

And marvel at their amazement in being able to pick out a cereal

Not the kiddy sugary kind

But the oat and nuts one

That are usually just too expensive and out of their reach 

We watch as they worry about making us spend too much money

And try to remove things from the cart

Things we suggested they get

We struggle to remind them that we are able to purchase this or that for them

And we wonder what will happen when they’re no longer with us

It would be easy to say that the life skills taught will be enough to get them from one negative place in life to a healthier better one

But that’s not the reality they live in

It’s not the reality I live in

So we focus on the now 

We focus on ensuring that they can get to school when they want to

That they can eat food when they’re hungry

That they have toiletries and hygiene products when they need to bathe

But what happens when they leave our program?

Who takes care of them then?

When they’re too old for children’s aid to be involved?

Maybe society needs to step up

People often like to pretend that there are no children going hungry in our part of the world

But that’s an ignorant belief

Take off the blinders

People are so quick to point out all the flaws and negative behaviours youth might participate in

Social commentary on parenting and discipline is ever present

Everyone expresses their sadness 

But these youth need more than to know that your heart hurts for them

I understand that this is not the reality in most people’s worlds

But just because you didn’t go hungry as a kid or because your kids don’t go hungry now

Does not mean that there isn’t a young person who hasn’t eaten anything today

All damn day

I’m miserable when I skip breakfast

Or if I didn’t have my morning cup of coffee 

Please remember these youth year round

Not just on holidays

Simply put

We have got to start doing better for our youth  

All of us

Me included

It takes a village…

The kids aren’t alright 

The kids aren’t alright

They never were

Not when I was one

Probably not when you were either

Something happens when we reach the peak of adulthood

Where we forget the feelings of pain and of being so lost

And start to resent the kids

The same kids that just aren’t fucking alright

Thinking they have it so easy

No responsibilities

No bills to pay

But the truth stares back at me every day

In the faces of the kids I work with

The forced tough guy faces

In the set of their jaw

In the puff of their chests 

They don’t know what the future holds 

All they can see is how shitty life is

In that precise moment

In how fucked up their parents are 

In how lonely they feel

In how angry they are

I remember that too

The angry feelings

When I was scared to speak

In case I let out a breath of fire 

And someone would see the real me

But still the anger kept me going

See…the kids don’t know

They don’t know that when the anger goes away

Everything is still exactly the same

Except you

You finally realize that nothing is going to change

Nothing you do                           Nothing you wish hard for      Nothing you fight for

It didn’t change then

It didn’t miraculously get better for me like we keep telling them it will

Let’s stop selling them fairy tales of how once they’re older, it’ll all be better

Stop setting them up to be disappointed 

Maybe we should just tell them that it doesn’t get better

It’s not easier 

We learn how to control the fire-breathing

We just learn how to keep soldiering on

We learn how to not let the shitty stuff overwhelm us

We learn how to fake it sometimes

We learn how to mask it so well sometimes we think we really are alright 

They will too

The kids weren’t alright then

The kids still aren’t alright

Graffiti Alley

Not the one I remember from my youth, but this picture does evoke the feelings I had when I was 15 at the original Grafitti Alley. Felt like I was exploring an unknown secret place. Like Harry Potter and Diagon Valley. I remember going home afterwards and smelling like incense and vintage clothes and unwrapping my small purchases and feeling so giddy that I knew of a hidden place with all kinds of the coolest shit my 15 year old could even conjur up.

Looking California but feeling Minnesota 

I was a huge Nirvana fan when I was a youngster. It was the first time I’d connected to the music that was being made, instead of just enjoying the beat. 

And it was fucking life changing. I had no clue that there were people out there in the world who thought like me and said things I wanted to say and screamed how I wanted to. Not just people, but adults. I would think ‘that’s how I’m gonna be when I grow up’. I felt reassured in knowing that these people who I both looked up to and thought I was  like, were successful and had each made it out of their struggles, alive.

But as we all know, that’s not how the story ended.Kurt Cobain didn’t make it out alive. It was unsurprising and also a total shock when he was found dead. He screamed and wailed and sang his way through his life but in the end he couldn’t defeat his demons.

Chris Cornell always seemed to be different from the rest of the Seattle scene. Where the others seemed uncomfortable with their fame, Chris seemed to just go with it. I don’t know what it was about him. But he oozed an energy. And that’s not to say he didn’t have his fair share of battles. He stated that he struggled with mental health and addiction issues but it seemed that he had come out on the other side of it.

He made it. 

He slayed the beast, quieted the demons. Did what he had to do, in order to survive.
But at 52 years of age, his life ended. I was saddened when I learned of his passing. Whether the Ativan contributed to his demise or if it was the depression that had plagued him throughout his life, it doesn’t matter. He wasn’t selfish, stupid or ungrateful for his success. I’ve read so many comments in which people mock him for being a rock star with money and belittle his struggles. He was a human being in pain. A person in a state of pain can only exist for so long. Synonyms for ‘pain’ include: suffering, agony, torture, torment, discomfort. I don’t know about to but each of those words incite thoughts of wanting whatever it is causing that pain, to just stop…to end.

After his last concert, he took his life by suicide.

Because at the end of the day, when the lights go out, the people fade away and night creeps in; we are left alone with just the thoughts in our heads.

We cannot escape the words, taunts, memories or harsh reminders.

And if you can’t be safe and alone, with only your thoughts to keep you company…well in the words of Soundgarden:

Words you say never seem to live up 

To the ones inside your head

The lives we make

Never seem to get us anywhere 

But dead.
-Angela xo